Scores of therapists, counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists across the nation have been stripped of or voluntarily surrendered their licenses after manipulating and sexually exploiting clients. Many of them, whether they were prosecuted or not, wish to continue on in their profession and elect to jump to another state that’s lenient on background checks. One Maryland therapist who lost his license has elected to remain in the state to continue counseling, but is attempting to skirt the licensing issue by involving himself in people’s personal and emotional lives in a slightly different role.
Richard O’Meara voluntarily surrendered his license in 2012 in lieu of criminal charges for what the Maryland Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists stated was for engaging “in a prohibited sexual and dual relationship with a female client during the course of an established client-counselor relationship, fostered a mutual dependency between client and counselor, and exploited the professional relationship for personal advantage.”
Utilizing the imbalance of power in the therapeutic relationship to control, manipulate, and sexually exploit clients is known as therapist abuse and is illegal in 26 states, a number of which have defined it as statutory rape. O’Meara is already a convicted felon for aggravated assault against a child in Pennsylvania, something he didn’t reveal when he applied for his license in Maryland. A simple background check would have prevented his licensure and years of pain and suffering that followed for his client.
A year now since his surrender, O’Meara has established O’Meara Counseling Services, LLC which, according to his website, offers “pre-marital relationship commitment coaching” and has reportedly brought in $85,000 – all without a license. He appears to run the business out of his home in Gambrills. The irony of O’Meara offering relationship commitment coaching is yet another mockery of the profession considering he was married the entire time he was sexually exploiting his client, also married. He has furthered the mockery by also doling out advice on usedview.com about being a victim, essentially telling the state board that he can pretty much do what he pleases.
O’Meara’s case was tightly wound in two bills brought forth to the Maryland General Assembly this past session by Lynette’s Law for Maryland. HB 56, which will authorize background checks of mental health professionals, passed although it won’t be active for another couple years, and HB 60 which was designed to criminalize therapist abuse in the state was drawer vetoed by Senator Brian Frosh even though it passed the House of Delegates unanimously. It will be brought back next session.
Former chair of the Maryland Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists, Richard Hann, testified before the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee that one of the reasons the board didn’t pursue criminal charges against Richard O’Meara was that they felt he was too dangerous and would become extremely violent against his former client and her family, eventually rambling in some muddled rhetoric that, “this individual might be able to avoid even us being able to protect the public.” Delving into the ludicrous logic of leaving a violent criminal that sexually assaulted his client to prey upon the public is beyond the scope of this article, but the board conveyed a legitimate fear of this man who still continues to practice and involve himself in very personal matters of other people’s lives.
The weakness and failure of the board is striking. First, with no background checks in place a convicted felon acquired a license to practice therapy then subsequently committed therapy sex abuse. By simply surrendering his license the board didn’t hold him criminally accountable for his sexual transgressions against his client and he walked away free. Now, even without a license, he has established his own private practice to invite people to disclose to him the most intimate and private details of their relationships.
The seemingly only glimmer of hope to provide accountability in Maryland’s mental health care is the Lynette’s Law for Maryland movement, it’s new national non-profit spearhead in the National Alliance Against Exploitation by Professionals (NAAEP, pronounced N-double-A-E-P), and the occasional police officer recognizing the correct course of action, such as the Clarence W. Green case in Salisbury in which he was arrested for exposing himself to a client and making sexual advances. By his arrest the board was mercifully circumvented, thereby offering a real course of action through the criminal justice system. If only the Maryland Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists would wield the power its supposed to have then fewer of these cases would spin so wildly out of control.